Wine in three languages

Vineyards at the Kleine Zalze Wineland and Golf Estate near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.

Junior winemaker Philani Gumede tests a new batch of wine at the Orange River Wine Cellars. The dictionary contains wine industry terms and descriptions for viticulturists, producers, winemakers, wine marketers, writers and students.
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Dr Michele van der Merwe says the trilingual dictionary will fulfil an important educational need in the wine sector and help to establish isiXhosa as a scientific language.
(Image: Justin Alberts)

Dr Michele van der Merwe
Project leader
+27 21 808 2396

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South Africa’s first trilingual dictionary for the wine industry is now available online. The specialised subject dictionary contains translations and descriptions of 3500 industry terms in English, isiXhosa and Afrikaans.

Stellenbosch University’s Dr Michele van der Merwe, who heads up the project, says the new dictionary is a valuable addition to South Africa’s wine industry, renowned internationally for its outstanding wines.

“There is a big need for the dictionary and the request came from the industry,” Van der Merwe says.

In the past few years the industry has been at the forefront of innovation and has experienced significant growth.

The introduction of new trends created a need for a single point of reference where everyone in the industry could find credible descriptions of new terminology, instruments and concepts.

An up-to-date dictionary published in three languages was the ideal solution.

The project was established as a joint initiative by Stellenbosch University, Wintech, responsible for co-ordinating research in the wine industry, and wine certification body Sawis.

The dictionary will fulfil an important educational need in the sector and help to establish isiXhosa as a scientific language.

Something for everyone

Contained in the dictionary are current wine industry terms and descriptions for viticulturists, producers, winemakers, wine marketers, writers and students.

“Somebody who does training in viticulture does not necessarily have the necessary knowledge of language,” explains Van der Merwe. “I hope that it can be used as widely as possible – from students and researchers to people who simply love wine.”

The dictionary contains a comprehensive list of terms such as bottle sizes, cultivation practices, marketing, trellising, distillation, crushing, grapevine physiology, diseases, and even waste management.

It also contains interesting expressions, such as “wine thief”, which refers to a long tubular instrument used to test the sugar content of wine, “hogshead”, a type of barrel, and “angels’ share”, a term that describes a portion of brandy lost through evaporation.

And if you’ve ever felt out of your depth at a wine tasting, struggled to tell a blanc de noir from a blanc de blanc, or couldn’t differentiate between a noble, medium-bodied or ordinary wine, this dictionary is also for you.

Van der Merwe explains that the last dictionary for the wine industry in South Africa appeared in 1973, but it was just a word list without any descriptions or user guidelines.

“Since then, a lot of research had been done and knowledge about the industry and relevant fields expanded immensely,” says Van der Merwe, who is also a qualified lexicographer (someone who writes and edits dictionaries).

Science in isiXhosa

The dictionary is a useful teaching tool for students, not only in formal tertiary education but also for people who work in the wine industry.

Emerging producers who do not have training or a background in the sector can use the dictionary to familiarise themselves with important terminology.

This is why the isiXhosa translations are an important part of the project.

“We live in a multilingual country where an increasing number of isiXhosa speakers in the Western Cape are becoming involved in the wine industry,” explains Van der Merwe.

“It is so much easier to understand the wine industry in your own language.”

She adds that as the wine industry is predominantly based in the Western Cape, they wanted to publish the dictionary in the three official languages of the province.

“There was previously no isiXhosa wine terminology. I hope that this dictionary fills the gap,” she says.

Easy to use

On the landing page users can select their preferred language and then search for a particular term or browse through the subject fields.

The word and a complete definition, as well as a translation of the term, will appear.

Most of the terms in the dictionary are divided into subject fields, making it easy for users to distinguish between viticulture or oenology terms.

The subject field viticulture includes, for example, terms relating to organic growth and production, soil science, plant biotechnology, vine viruses and plant improvement.

The oenology search field includes terms related to production technology, bottling, packaging and distribution, as well as microbiology.

Finding and translating the terms was a daunting task.

For the past five years Van der Merwe worked closely with a team of industry experts and staff from the university, including Professors Melanie Viviers and Florian Bauer, both bio-technologists, and Piet Goussard, a viticulturist.

“Another challenge was translating, as there are many English words that don’t have an equivalent in isiXhosa or Afrikaans,” she explains.

“We had to describe the concepts using a few words. For the Afrikaans translation we had to add a lot of words together to make compounds.”

People with limited internet access can also use the dictionary.

“We are encouraging people who work in cellars to print the whole dictionary and keep a hard copy on hand,” she says. “If you don’t have access to the internet this is the ideal way to access the dictionary.”

South Africa’s language heritage

Van der Merwe says the trilingual dictionary has another important function of preserving South Africa’s wine industry language heritage.

What she found interesting was how, over the years, people have used human attributes to define processes in wine production, diseases or characteristics of vines.

“Tandpyn”, an Afrikaans word for toothache, is used to describe a fungal disease that affects vines. Different parts of the vine are also often referred to as an arm or shoulder.

“People have been very practical in their naming of concepts,” she says. “I realised that wine terms share many characteristics with people.”

The dictionary can be accessed free of charge at